Mariano Rivera

A Playoff Feeling

Thursday night’s Red Sox vs. Yankees game was one of the more exciting games I’ve seen in a while.  Keep in mind I only really saw a bit of the first few innings and from the 9th inning on what with my softball game taking up my time in the middle (we lost 7-15.  We had a 6-0 lead and then gave up 15 runs in the bottom of the 3rd…what the heck.  And thus concludes my ramblings on my softball game).  But for the few innings I did witness, there was energy, excitement and a definitive playoff feel, something I really haven’t felt since perhaps 2009.

Mariano Rivera is the best closer baseball has ever seen and anytime you can get a win out of a Rivera pitched game is a great thing.  It will be an odd sight-seeing someone other than Rivera close in 2014.

Two Red Sox thoughts:

The most impressive performer for the Red Sox this year has been Koji Uehara.  Consider this, since being named closer on June 26th, Uehara has pitched 34.1 innings.  He’s allowed 10 hits, 2 walks, struck out 46 and posted a 0.26 ERA and he has faced 114 batters vs. a minimum possible of 103.  His ability to lock down the 9th has been a blessing for the Red Sox as Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey, both of the all you can eat Buffet lifestyle, are both injured for the year and when healthy were ineffective.  Uehara’s ability to throw his 89, 90 MPH fastball by the best fastball hitters astounds me and his splitter is unhittable.  Uehara, apologies, consider yourself jinxed.

The call-up of Xander Bogaerts hasn’t produced the splash like Yasiel Puig’s call-up generated, but that is probably how the Red Sox hoped it would happen.  The idea of letting a young player take in the atmosphere with an eye towards preparing him for the following season is appealing to me.

What Does Hal Do Now?

Let me be clear from the get go, the following is not an argument that a payroll of $189 million is insufficient to win a World Series. Starting from scratch, that big a payroll would be much, much, more than you would need to compete and win. But, the Yankees aren’t starting from scratch, so keep that in mind as you read the following. 

I’m not sure Hal grasps the fundamental deal between the Yankees and their fans. The fans agree to pay exorbitant prices in exchange for star players and a competitive team. We respect the fact that ownership is in the business to make money, but we won’t tolerate that pursuit at the expense of a good team. If you want the attention and the dollars that come from owning the Yankees, you have to put a good product on the field. If you don’t, the fans won’t show up. Furthermore, the combination of HDTV and ridiculous prices at the ballpark have made it very easy for the fans to stay home.

The Yankees now find themselves at a crossroads. The $189-million mandate has been issued for 2014, but it is very hard to see how that figure would produce a championship club. I’ve detailed it before, but almost $90-million is already tied up in four players with serious questions hanging over them- A-Rod, Sabathia, Teixeira and Jeter (assuming Jeter exercises his player’s option). Cano, Kuroda, Pettitte, Granderson, Youkilis, Hughes, Logan and Joba will be free agents. Mo will have retired. The minors offer some hope of pitching help in 2014, but little in the way of positional help. And, as of right now, Cervelli and Nunez are the only potential 2014 starters under the age of 30.

Why does this matter now? Because the trade deadline is approaching and Brian Cashman needs to factor in that $189-million figure in his decisions over the next 11 days. Alfonso Soriano and his righty power bat would be a boost for this anemic lineup, but his $17-million salary hit in 2014 won’t work with the $189 million figure.

I use Soriano merely as an example of the type of trade the Yankees have traditionally made in the past. They have taken on salary while giving up less than stellar prospects. Without that financial flexibility, Brian Cashman will have very few options on the trade market this year. Some will argue that the additions of Jeter, A-Rod and Granderson will be enough, but can you really count on them? Jeter made it back for a game and got hurt again. A-Rod is headed for a MRI today on his quad and might be suspended.  Granderson isn’t even playing rehab games at this point. Look at tonight’s lineup. None of the bottom five guys are hitting above .239. The highest OBP among the quintet is .312 and the highest slugging percentage is .401.  And really, when you look honestly at the whole lineup, only Cano and Gardner are probably starting players on a true contender. The rest of the guys are role players at best.

So what is Hal going to do? If the Yankees had seen some of their younger players step up and contribute, meeting the $189-million goal while fielding a competitive team would have been achievable. But I think it is fair to say now that it won’t be. Hal can stick to the plan and force Cashman to run around signing cast offs and fading stars, or he can swallow hard and let the payroll stay where it is now. Financial restraint was a great idea, but the reality of four guys making $85 million and a lack of young talent should force the Yankees to come up with a new plan. Better they do so in July than wait until November.


Two Statements

See if you can spot a difference in two statements made by Yankee players today.

“I carry the legacy of Mr. Jackie for all these years. I try to do my best to wear No. 42 and do it with class and honor. That’s what I’ve been trying my best, to carry the legacy of No. 42.

I will continue doing that until the end. Because of what Mr. Jackie Robinson did for us as minorities was tremendous, giving us an opportunity to come here, opening doors for us. Being the last player to wear No. 42 is a privilege. ” 

Mariano Rivera at his press conference today.

“Mariano Rivera is arguably the greatest closer of all time. But beyond that he is a class act and a great human being. It is an honor to be his teammate and his friend.”

Alex Rodriguez in a statement today.

Some get it, others do not.

Another Bullpen Arm

Word is the Yankees have traded for Shawn Kelley of the Mariners. Abe Almonte heads to Seattle and A-Rod heads to the 60-day DL to make room for Kelley.

Kelley has an option, so he is probably nothing more than bullpen depth at this point, but it is a decent move. Kelley has shown an ability to strike people out in the bigs and he has been surprisingly tough on lefties (he is a righty). His flyball rates could get him into trouble, but Almonte probably is never going to make the majors as anything more than a fill in defender.

The Yankees have some interesting bullpen choices. Assuming health we can put the following names in ink: Rivera, Robertson, Chamberlain and Logan. Clay Rapada  and Caesar Cabral will probably battle in out for the second lefty job.  Rapada is out of options, but Cabral is a Rule 5 pick who would have to be returned to the Red Sox if he doesn’t make the major-league roster. (Though since he was hurt last year he could be put on a 30-day rehab firdt. The loser of the Phelps vs. Nova competition could go to the pen, but could also go to the minors as they both have options. David Aardsma doesn’t have any options left, but Cody Eppley does and they figure to both be battling for a spot.

Considering the strength of the group and the depth of the group, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Yankees trade a reliever for another need. Pure speculation, but if Rapada picks up where he left off and Cabral has a great camp like he did in 2012, Boone Logan gets traded because he will be a free agent after 2013. We shall see.